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Appellate Court Remands Massachusetts Woman’s Personal Injury Case After Second Trial Results in Substantially Lower Verdict

In a Cape Cod personal injury case, the plaintiff has the burden of proving four elements, each by a preponderance of the evidence. These elements include duty, breach of duty, damages, and causation. Once these elements have been proven, it is up to the jury to determine the amount of money damages to which the plaintiff is entitled in compensation for his or her injuries.

Along the way, both the plaintiff and the defendant are bound by certain rules regarding the admissibility of evidence and the civil procedures to be used. If an overzealous legal advocate runs afoul of these rules, it is up to the trial court judge – and ultimately the appeals courts, if further review is taken – to decide whether a new trial is warranted under the circumstances. As was reiterated in a recent case, the question is not merely whether there was wrongdoing by an attorney at trial but, rather, whether the misconduct had such an effect on the jury that a mistrial was required.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case considered on appeal by the Massachusetts Appeals Court, the plaintiff was a woman who suffered a broken tooth while eating a fast food hamburger in 2011. After determining that there had been a bone fragment in the burger, the plaintiff filed suit against the defendants, the restaurant where the hamburger was purchased and the company that supplied beef to the restaurant, seeking compensation for the injury to her tooth (which had required nearly two dozen trips to the dentist over a two-year period to resolve).

The case was tried to a jury. After deliberating for almost as long as the rest of the trial had lasted, the jury returned a plaintiff’s verdict for $150,005.64, an amount representing the lowest suggested figure for damages given by the plaintiff’s attorney during his closing arguments plus the price of the food the plaintiff had purchased from the restaurant. The trial court judge granted the defendants’ motion for a mistrial, and the case was retried to a different jury, who awarded damages of only $10,000. The plaintiff appealed, questioning the trial judge’s granting of a mistrial following the first trial.

The Outcome of the Appeal

The appellate court vacated the trial court judge’s order granting the defendants’ motion for a mistrial in the first trial, set aside the verdict from the second trial, and remanded the case for reconsideration of the motion consistent with the court’s opinion. According to the court of appeals, it had been an abuse of the trial court’s judge’s discretion to allow a new trial based on certain statements made by the plaintiff’s attorney during closing arguments. In the appellate court’s view, the trial court judge had not applied the correct legal standard in ruling on the motion for a mistrial, nor had she made a proper determination as to whether a miscarriage of justice would result if a new trial was not granted. In the court’s view, a motion for a new trial was not a mechanism for addressing individual errors at trial but, rather, an opportunity for the judge to take a “whole survey of the case” to ensure that a miscarriage of justice had not occurred.

Upon remand, the trial court judge was directed to reconsider the defendants’ motion for a mistrial using the correct standard. Rather than merely deciding whether certain aspects of the closing argument made by the plaintiff’s counsel was impermissible, the trial court judge was directed to examine whether that “impermissible advocacy” resulted in such a miscarriage of justice as to warrant the declaration of a mistrial. In so directing, the court of appeals pointed out that both juries had determined that the defendants were liable; the only difference was the amount of damages awarded, and, notably, the defendants had not contested the dollar value of the plaintiff’s harm during the first trial.

Hire a Massachusetts Personal Injury Attorney

There are so many ways in which contaminated food can cause injury to an innocent person. If you have been hurt due to another’s failure to act in a reasonably prudent manner, you need to consult an attorney to see if you have a case against the responsible entity. To schedule a free consultation with a helpful Cape Cod personal injury attorney, call The Law Offices of John C. Manoog III, at 888-262-6664. We handle cases in Plymouth, Hyannis, and other locales throughout the Cape Cod area.